Mahabharata Summary 1

Mahabharata Summary




Author’s life and works :[Mahabharata Summary]



Mahabharata is one of the two most celebrated ancient Sanskrit epics in India and is the longest one in recorded human history so far. Dealing with very complex plot, multiple layers of story stretching through generations and numerous characters this epic portrays a miniature world in itself. Invariably such a vast span of literary creation may not be the product of a single mind. Hence it is called a Primary Epic whose authorship cannot be determinately associated to any one person. However, Vyasa is popularly known as the author or compiler of Mahabharata. But to be more precise, it is assumed that the time of original composition of this epic as an oral literature is somewhere around gth to gth Century BCE and under the authority of Vyasa it first achieved a written form in around 4th Century BCE. In this regard the chief credit as the author of the epic generally goes to Vyasa. However, it had yet to receive many interpolations and is assumed to be finally finished around 4th Century CE in the Gupta period.


Vyasa :

Vyasa is also known by two other names: Krishna Dvaipayana and Veda Vyasa. Son of Satyavati and Parashara he is believed to have been born in an island on the river Yamuna near Kalpi town in modern Uttar Pradesh. Now he had derived the first name ‘Krishna’ for his extreme dark complexion and the last name ‘Dvaipayana’ for being born in an island i.e. a ‘dwip’ in Sanskrit. Yet his other name i.e. Veda Vyasa has more association to his literary credential: he is known to be the first to split the primordial single Veda into three different canonical parts. Another meaning of the word ‘vyasa’ is to split or differentiate. His life and works are for modern Hindu religion the time of myth-making. This myth makes him an expansion of the incarnation of lord Vishnu. It also enables him to consult with other gods like Narada and Brahma in order to hire someone who would tirelessly take down his enormous dictations of Mahabharata and finally he makes an accord with lord Ganesha for the same too. It is the tricky game of ‘time’; along with the passage of time history turns into legends and legends turn into myths and when thousands of years pass it becomes really difficult to differentiate them from each other. It is said that lord Ganesha had agreed to write down the text from his dictations but on the condition that his (Ganesha) hand must not stop while writing. At this Vyasa had also played another trick by imposing a condition that Lord Ganesha should also write any shloka only after understanding its meaning fully.


Other narrators:

He is both the compiler and a very important character in Mahabharata. He makes his first appearance in the epic as the sage Vyasa who fathers Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. It shows that the great war of Kurukshetra is actually fought among the grandsons of Vyasa. But unlike these mentioned characters of monarchy Vyasa’s true spirit of sage and a religious compiler is inherited by his other son Shuka from his wife Pinjala. Vyasa is also the great grandson of famous sage Vashistha. Vyasa is also credited with the compilation of all Upanishadas eighteen major Puranas. His son Shuka is the narrator of major Purana Bhagavat-Purana. According to Hindu mythology Vyasa is one of the seven immortal men on earth and is entrusted to act on Lord Vishnu’s instructions and divide the Vedas in every third world age for better understanding and guidance of human being. Through the festival of Guru Purnima he is remembered and honoured by calling it Vyasa Purnima since it is believed to be both his birthday and the day when he divided the Veda.


It to be noted that though Vyasa is popularly figured as the author or compiler of the Mahabharata, there are also few other names who bear the role of narrator to the story of Mahabharata too. As story-tellers their contribution is no less important in the final formation of the epic. Maharshi Vaishampayana, in a later period is supposed to have narrated the story of Mahabharata to Raja Janamejay who was the great grandson of Arjuna. And in the process he had added almost 1,62,000 shlokas and named it as The Book of Bharata. Again Rishi Ugrasrava Sauti who was a bard of Puranic literature and a disciple of Vyasa had also narrated the story of King Bharata to an assembly of rishis in the great gathering in Naimisha forest. There he had incorporated the portion of the story narrated by Maharshi Vaishamoayana too and is supposed to have added 75,000 more shlokas to the main text.




As far the Savaparva is concerned it is well placed as an introduction to the whole epic. It sets the stage for the entire gamut to take place. While the palace which shows the height of Pandavas, powers, it also becomes the reason of their ultimate downfall. The teaching of Mahabharata thus begins quite early. The magniloquent descriptions of the palaces sets the tune for the epic scales in which everything will now be measured. The Rajasuyya Yajna again sets the tone for the battles to come. The digression involving the killing of Jarasandha introduces us to the might of Bhima and the mind of Krishna. Though Pandavas themselves subjugate kings and extract tributes from them they are set apart from an example of evil ruler in the form of Jarasandha. Further, the game of dicing and the subsequent humiliation of Draupadi actually sow the seeds of the real conflict between the forces of Kauravas and Pandavas. All the stylistic aspects of an epic have been incorporated into the second book giving us a glimpse of what we are supposed to deal with. The scale of the endeavour, the repetitions, the digressions, the anticipation to bloodshed etc.



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